Top judge backs Sharia law ‘role’

England’s most senior judge has come under fire for suggesting that parts of Sharia law could have a role to play in the legal system.

Speaking at a London mosque the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips, said that parts of the Islamic legal code could be used to settle certain disputes between British Muslims.

This, he argued, would not dilute the fact that the country is governed by English law in English courts.

“There is no reason why principles of Sharia law, or any other religious code, should not be the basis for mediation or other forms of alternative dispute resolution,” he said.

He defended similar comments made earlier this year by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, describing them as “not very radical”.

Dr Williams provoked a storm of controversy in February when he told the BBC: “There’s a place for finding what would be a constructive accommodation with some aspects of Muslim law, as we already do with some other aspects of religious law.”

In civil law disputes it is lawful for opponents to agree a set of rules to determine a settlement. There is no reason why these rules cannot be based on religious codes, but both parties have to agree and the rules cannot take precedence over English law.

The Lord Chief Justice’s remarks have reignited the controversy surrounding Sharia law and his comments have been roundly condemned.

Barrister John Cooper warned: “Well-crafted laws in this country, drawn up to protect both parties including the weak and vulnerable party in matrimonial break-ups, could be compromised.”

Khalid Mahmood, Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Bar and a practising Muslim, said : “This would create a two-tier society. It is highly retrograde. It will segregate and alienate the Muslim community from the rest of British society.”

The Ministry of Justice said: “English law takes precedence over any other legal system. The Government has no intention of changing this position.”

However, it said: “Alongside this, it is possible to resolve civil law dispute by other systems.”